I first heard of the fires (yes, plural) aboard the Princess Cruises' Emerald Princess in a cruise review entitled Emerald Princess On Fire!!!
A couple on the cruise ship commented, with no other details, that on the first first night (September 16th) "the staff were called to stations because of a fire in the engine room. Unfortunately, we had another fire in the engine room a couple of days into the cruise . . . "
I later found a discussion on Cruise Critic started by a cruise passenger who commented that she was alarmed after the captain's announcement of a "technical issue" which caused the entire crew to muster. She was even more alarmed by an announcement that "the fire is out" in the engine room. The Princess cruise ship was 7 hours south of Southampton at the time.
Four days later, another passenger commented on Cruise Critic that there has a second fire in the engine room. "Needless to say its gotten me shaken up. Twice in one trip on my first cruise. Tempted to get off when we reach Italy and cut my holiday short. I've asked customer services for more info to put my mind at rest and am still awaiting a call from them to my room with more info. 4 hours after requesting it!!"
The captain eventually made an announcement but the information was limited and seemed to confuse the passengers. Cruise Critic members began leaving comments about what they thought of fires on cruise ships.
Cruise Critic members are an odd assortment of people. Some profess technical expertise and condescendingly lecture other members not to worry about why fires break out. "It's technical," they say. One person commenting said "too much information can cause even more reason to worry." Others expressed blind trust in Princess. The comments ranged from rank speculation minimizing the fires, accusations that others were engaging in "scaremongering," and assurances from the loyal cruise fans that this was just a "mountain out of a molehill." Many Cruise Critic members, commenting from the security of their homes, suggested that the passengers on the ship just "carry on" and not worry about it. My favorite comment was - as long as the captain doesn't say "'abandon ship' you should be ok."
Cruisers scheduled to cruise on the Emerald Princess in the future, however, were not satisfied with this mishmash of speculation and blind loyalty. They asked Princess for an explanation on its Facebook page.
Princess then left the following comment on its Facebook page:
"The ship experienced two very unusual technical failures on the engines, which caused what turned out to be two very minor fires but which produced smoke in the engine room. The fires were quickly extinguished in both instances, there were no injuries and these fires did not pose a safety threat to passengers and crew. During each incident, in an abundance of caution, the crew was called to their emergency stations. There is no reason to believe that there will be a repeat of these incidents. All the ship's systems and the ship's emergency response procedures operated correctly, and the ship is safe. We look forward to welcoming you onboard a safe, relaxing voyage next month!"
Princess's PR statement hit all of the elements of a corporate spin - the fires were "unusual" (i.e., rare), the fires were "minor," the fires were "quickly extinguished," the crew mustered in an "abundance of caution," the fires "didn't pose a safety threat to passengers," and the "ship is safe."
But one future cruiser on the Emerald Princess wasn't satisfied with the corporate gobbledygook and pressed for more information from Princess"
"I hope due to unusual technical failures on not one but two engines this has been thoroughly checked out and not a quick fix till she reaches America. I heard about it from passengers on board wrote on Cruise Critic.They were worried. Crew did not answer any questions."
Princess responded on Facebook:
"The safety of our guests is our priority. There is no reason to believe there will be a repeat of these incidents. Specialist technicians from the engine manufacturer are traveling to the ship to investigate."
People on a ship who hear the sound of fire alarms and see crew members running to to their fire stations at night in the Atlantic Ocean are bound to feel frightened and uncertain. That's normal. They are not sheep. They're going to be inquisitive. That's normal too. But most cruise ships do a poor job of being transparent with the guests. "It's nothing" the crew may say. "There was smoke but no fire" is a favorite excuse. "It's technical. Don't worry your pretty head about it," are the responses you may receive by crew members who are trained to reassure the guests but not-admit-anything.
My thought is that all passengers are entitled to receive timely, accurate and honest information about something as serious as a fire on the high seas, no matter how small the cruise line claims the fire is or how rapidly the cruise line claim they extinguished it. Such transparency is vital to ensuring corporate accountability and passenger safety. No one should have to resort to posting on Cruise Critic or Facebook for answers.
Cruise Critic is not a place to find honest information anyway. Owned by travel conglomerate Expedia / Trip Advisor, it's a place where members who express natural fear and uncertainty and inquire about dangers on cruise ships are often ridiculed.
One Cruise Critic fan stated that the thread never needed to be started. "All it accomplished was to get some people needlessly worried and upset. I can't imagine rushing to the computer to report on an ongoing event without knowing the facts. As it turned out, these were minor events that were dealt with appropriately and didn't need to be posted and discussed all over the internet . . . I trust Princess to ensure the safety of their passengers and will continue to have faith until something happens to belie that trust. It hasn't happened in the 12 years I have been sailing on Princess."
Of course the Star Princess ignited just 8 years ago and was caused by the tiniest of fires (a smoldering cigarette). That fire killed one passenger (our clients' father) and injured and terrified many others as it destroyed 100 cabins.
But those on Cruise Critic who blindly trust Princess don't want to talk about that, do they? That would be too upsetting.
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Photo Credit: Wikipedia / Holger.Ellgaard Creative Commons 3.0